THE VIEW Vision And Focus ???? Shelley Row

Let’s not be such an engineer about it

❝ Better

presentation skills could make a sale, sway a boss, influence a public hearing or lure a potential client ❞

pletely wrong. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Those of us with technical skills can be excellent present- ers, too. Imagine incrementally improving your verbal communication skills. For you that means… l People listen to you because they appreciate that it really is interesting. Our content seems boring because of the way we deliver it. l People remember your point. The human memory is iffy. Better presenters are more memorable. Isn’t that the point? l People want to work with you. Whether it’s a proposal presentation or a conference session, we want to work with people we understand and relate to. Better presentation skills could make a sale, sway a boss,


influence a public hearing or lure a potential client. This one enhancement may be the single best investment of your time. But, we rarely make that investment. Instead we focus on technical material. When I work with engineers on presenting technical topics

to non-technical audiences whether it is a client, city council, the public or political leadership, the first hurdle is overcom- ing the belief that a) we already know how to do this, b) the technical information is what REALLY matters or c) both. The first step to improving is to acknowledge that we have a prob- lem. Those listening know we have a problem but we resist. Here’s the thing...improving presentation skills is not about

PowerPoint slides or speaking in a monotone. Well, it’s a little about that but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is serving the audience. We need to shift our focus from how to get our point across to how our work serves the audience.

Shelley Row is the former Director of the US DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office and is now building a career as a motivational speaer and business coach


SO THAT YOU CAN… Why does the audience care? Have you ever started devel- oping a presentation by throwing together PPT slides? Wrong. First, ask yourself, why is the audience interested? Why will they care about what I say? Imagine you state the subject and say, “so that you can…” or “for you this means…”. How will you finish the sentence? For example, you might say, “I’m going to discuss the key points of the new V2I guidance document so that you can understand how it applies in your state.” Make it all about them.

ngineers, like you and me, are good people but we have a reputation as poor communicators and pre- senters. And, let’s face it, the reputation isn’t com-

THE ONE THING We as technical professionals have lots of information to share and the audience won’t remember it all. IF YOU’RE LUCKY, they will remember one point – maybe two. What’s the One Thing you want them to remember? You can hope they “get it” or you can stack the deck in your favor by being crystal clear. Write down the One Thing. If you aren’t clear they won’t be either. Once you have the One Thing, make it stick.

VELCRO The brain is selective. It doesn’t retain everything it hears. With most ideas, the brain is like Teflon. You want your ideas to be like Velcro. Stickiness is memorable and actionable. If you want to be picked for a proposal, be sticky. If you want a city council to take action, be sticky. There are several ways to make your One Thing sticky. Organizational structure. Use a simple organizing structure

(three key points, four steps – not more than five) and make it easy to follow. Organized information sticks particularly when each point reinforces the One Thing. Visuals. Activate the visual center in the brain and you get

stickiness. Forget the text slides. The brain won’t remember that stuff and you exhaust the audience. How can you illus- trate your point with an image? Story. Stop! Don’t leave now. This is important. As engi-

neers, we don’t really “do” stories, but we’re not talking fair- ytales. A story is imbedded in your presentation structure. Examples are stories. The brain loves stories. This is why case studies are popular. More about this in my next column because it’s worth more time.

MEMORABLE CLOSING “Looks like I’m out of time. Any questions?” THAT is not a memorable closing. Building on the previous example, “We talked about three key points from the guidance document. For you this means, you have the tools you need to apply this guidance in your jurisdiction.” The last words out of your mouth reinforce the One Thing as it pertains to the audience. Take specific questions before the closing. End with a crisp, clear summary. Let’s start a movement to demonstrate that engineers are skillful, memo- rable communicators and presenters. For you that means, your research is applied, you connect with potential clients, and fact-based decisions are made.

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